EBOLA! (The facts, not the hype)


Everywhere you look, Ebola is on the news. Scary images of dying, bleeding West Africans are overplayed alongside scenes of medical personnel in space suit-looking isolation gear.  Movies like “Outbreak”, “28 Days Later”, and “Contagion” heighten our fears of a rapid, global flesh eating disease. We have brought back several Americans who are infected to be treated in Atlanta and Nebraska hospitals. Word has come that 2 health care workers in Texas are now infected.  Does that mean we should all be worried? Is this something that will spread across the U.S.?

First of all, don’t panic. The media has helped increase fear by making Ebola the lead story every night.  Yes, it is a serious disease that causes vomiting, fever, bleeding, and often, death. However, there is a lot about Ebola though that is left out of the sensational news stories. As a public consumer of information, knowing the facts often makes a frightening issue a lot less terrifying.

Here is what you need to know….

Ebola IS:

  • a virus
  • spread through contact with the body fluids (blood, secretions, semen) of someone that is ill with or has died from Ebola,  or from an animal infected with Ebola (chimps, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelopes, porcupines)
  • almost exclusively limited to West Africa at this time, primarily Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and Nigeria.  Two cases have occurred in  US health care workers caring for a patient from Africa.
  • very serious, particularly to people with severe nutritional deficits, lack of access to clean water, and those without medical care
  • able to be spread after death, so often the virus is transmitted during burial rituals in local African tribal communities

Ebola IS NOT:

  • a new disease (it was first identified in 1976); multiple outbreaks have occurred in Africa over the years
  • spread through air, water, or contaminated food
  • able to be prevented by vaccination nor is there a cure; infected persons are given supportive treatment with IV fluids, oxygen therapy, and other interventions
  • being readily transmitted in the U.S.. Two U.S. health care workers have been diagnosed in Texas after caring for an Ebola patient, but we have also successfully cared for other Ebola patients in this country without incident.
  • a risk to the general American public
  • something you can catch from being in an airplane, attending class, or living in a residence hall with someone who may have traveled to an affected area

Infectious disease experts are continually monitoring the latest information and feel very confident that a large scale outbreak that affects the United States is highly unlikely.  Ebola is not easy to get, and with our sophisticated medical care and ability to identify and isolate cases, our public health system is prepping to respond and contain to prevent any further spread.  We have already seen several hospitals receive patients successfully, and many others are performing drills, practicing policy and preparing general readiness plans.  The two cases in the health care workers in Texas are so far being attributed to a possible lack of protocol or training when wearing protective equipment; hopefully more will be known regarding this in the coming days.

The entire UNC campus system is in constant communication with infectious disease experts at the state health department and CDC.  All campuses are sharing information and are getting prepared should any further action be needed.  ECU is also monitoring the situation, and is having regular meetings with a team of campus staff members that would be involved in any major health issue.  This team reviews the latest information and will keep the university community informed with any updates of interest or any news that impacts our campus.

Want to read more?  Use reputable health care sites and news agencies that report facts, not those that try to drum up viewers with scary sensational stories.  Here are a few articles and sites we like:
Ebola 101: The Facts Behind a Frightening Virus
CDC Ebola Info
WHO Ebola Virus Disease

Have you traveled to an affected area or know someone who has?  Read this: Information from the NC Department of Health and Human Services

Still have questions?  Concerns?  Students can contact us at ECU Student Health Services, (252) 328-6841 or by emailing us at gotquestions@ecu.edu.  Faculty/staff should contact the Office of Prospective Health, (252) 744-2070.

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